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Komisarjevsky Family’s Religious Beliefs Outlined At Penalty Phase

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Komisarjevsky Family (Defense Exhibit 1161/Courtesy Judicial Dept/)

Komisarjevsky Family (Defense Exhibit 1161/Courtesy Judicial Dept/)

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By DAVE COLLINS , Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ A jury heard testimony Tuesday about angels and demons as lawyers for a Connecticut man charged in a deadly 2007 home invasion continued to introduce evidence about his family’s religious beliefs as they attempt to spare him from the death penalty.

A religion expert testified that Joshua Komisarjevsky grew up in a family whose religion was a mix of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. The expert said the family believes that demons battle angels for people’s souls, and that Komisarjevsky was afraid as a child that a demon would make him hurt his family.

The jury is hearing evidence on whether Komisarjevsky should get death or life in prison without the possibility of release after convicting him last month in the killings of a woman and her two daughters in their Cheshire home. His co-defendant, Steven Hayes, is already on death row.

Komisarjevsky’s religious upbringing could be key in proving a mitigating factor that would spare him from lethal injection. The defense is arguing that his parents oppose psychological counseling and medications because of their religion and failed to get their son proper treatment for his mental health problems.

Julie Ingersoll, a religious studies professor at the University of North Florida, testified that she interviewed Komisarjevsky and members of his family. She said they told her about an episode in Komisarjevsky’s childhood in which he believed a demon was in his presence, and the family and church leaders tried to help him through prayer.

Komisarjevsky at the time called it “the darkness” and believed it was part of him, Ingersoll testified, but he later came to believe it was just a panic attack.

Ingersoll said the family believes that mental illness is really just “irresponsibility” and a spiritual problem that can’t be treated by psychiatrists or psychologists, whom they believe are among outsiders who can’t be trusted.

Ingersoll also described Komisarjevsky’s childhood as “isolated” by religion and home-schooling.

But under cross-examination, prosecutor Gary Nicholson asked Ingersoll if Komisarjevsky knew from his religious upbringing that murder was a sin.
“They would have taught him that it was wrong,” Ingersoll said.

Prosecutors objected several times to the testimony about the Komisarjevsky family’s religious beliefs, questioning its relevance, but Judge Jon C. Blue allowed it.

Jurors were also shown clips from a video on a religious summer camp that Ingersoll said was similar to one Komisarjevsky attended. In the segments, adults warned against sinning and children– some crying and appearing upset– prayed to Jesus.

One woman in the video chastised Harry Potter as being a warlock and enemy of God.

“Had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death,” the woman told the children.

Ingersoll testified that Komisarjevsky grew up in this kind of environment and felt he didn’t fit in.

“He would always feel like he was on the outside looking in,” she said.

Earlier Tuesday, Komisarjevsky’s former drug counselor, Michael Daluz, testified that Komisarjevsky did well in a treatment program and said it was hard to believe that he took part in the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, during the home invasion.

Daluz said under cross-examination by State’s Attorney Michael Dearington that he opposed the death penalty and believed that life in prison is a harsh penalty.

“For a man to know he’ll never touch a woman, be with his family or live a normal life is punishment like you wouldn’t believe,” said Daluz, who spent time in prison for assault.

Testimony was set to resume Wednesday with prison, halfway house and drug treatment officials who had dealings with Komisarjevsky taking the stand.

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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